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Clark County School District amends child-abuse reporting regulations

Extensive changes are on the way for how school employees report suspected child abuse, according to amendments to Clark County School District regulations made Thursday.

While school officials say the revisions, unanimously approved by the School Board, are not in response to the death of 7-year-old student Roderick “RJ” Arrington, the changes might have made a difference for him on Nov. 28, 2012.

On that day, Roundy Elementary School staff noticed RJ was walking with difficulty and had extensive scarring. He told staff his mother and stepfather beat him on the buttocks and back with a TV cord, broom handle, spatula or belt when he was in trouble. School staff called Clark County’s child abuse hotline to report the case but refused the hotline worker’s request to check the boy for new injuries, according to county records.

The district’s new regulations make it clear that employees have “immunity from civil or criminal liability” under state law when reporting suspected child abuse in “good faith.” Including that reminder helps assure employees are “comfortable” to fully report suspicions, said Bill Grimm, senior attorney for the National Center for Youth Law.

“The default should be report, report, report,” he said.

The message here is to report everything to Child Protective Services, district spokeswoman Kirstin Searer said.

“It’s best to err on the side of caution,” she said.

Without school staff providing evidence of current visible injuries to RJ, the hotline worker determined the boy was not in immediate danger and labeled the case a lower priority, directing school staff to let the student go home. RJ died from injuries suffered that night at home.

While former school policies tell staff to only call the child abuse hotline within 24 hours, Thursday’s changes require them to tell a school administrator, counselor and nurse, if on site. A nurse would check for current injuries, which would lead a hotline worker to label the case a top priority, not allowing the child sent home until a Child Protective Services investigator arrives, according to the policies of the Clark County Department of Family Services.

Under the School District’s new rules, school staff would also call school police for direction when a worker suspects abuse would occur should the child return home.

One parent told the School Board Thursday that workers shouldn’t question every bruised student and jump to call the child abuse hotline, “slandering parents.” Board member Linda Young couldn’t disagree more, remembering cases in the past few years where Clark County students have been seriously hurt or killed.

“We are required by law to report suspicions, and we should. I want to put that on the record,” Young said. “We all have a responsibility, not just as educators, to report it and make sure somebody gets on it.”

Contact Trevon Milliard at tmilliard@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0279. Find him on Twitter: @TrevonMilliard.

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